Manu Agarwal – the 40-year-old creative mastermind, is the father of the brainchild Naaptol.com!
Manu has always been a serial entrepreneur at heart & mind. This entrepreneurial madness has not only helped him gain a vast pool of knowledge & experience, but has also given him the vision to look at the world in a very different manner.
A firm believer & follower of yoga & meditation, Manu has constantly fought his fears at every stage of his life and has grown on to become what you see today. Due to a harsh incident that had happened in his life; Manu had gained a fear of relationships and had disconnected himself from all his family, friends, and literally all his surroundings.
Since the time he has joined yoga & meditation; not only has he been able to overcome the deepest fears of his life, but has also got the vision to initiate Naaptol.com & brought it to the level you see today. It has done nothing but helped him manage Naaptol better.
Talking about his qualifications; he is an IIT-Kanpur graduate and has also completed his Masters in Computers & Electronics from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.
Today, his day begins and ends with his wife and 8-year-old daughter – Anusha who he loves dropping to school every morning. These rides with his daughter often include the entrepreneurial stories of Manu’s life and current situations.
Journey that led to Naaptol.com!
Manu started his occupational journey soon after he completed his Masters from University of Minnesota!
He began working for a company called WSI short for ‘WaferScale Integration,’ Silicon Valley, California in 1994. As a Project Leader, primarily his job profile included designing of Flash Memory chip, development of new generation row decoders and programmable logic devices. In simple terms; work related to the Memory of the computer.
Anyway, after working for almost 4 years with WSI, he wanted to come back to India to do something of his own and so in 1998, WSI sent him back to set up their office at Powai, Mumbai.
However, after completing the same, Manu decided to quit this job to start Design Expo Network in 1998.
He initiated by investing Rs. 50 lakhs from his own savings and with some help from family and friends.
The company was all about designing websites and creating massive scalable e-mail applications for majorly its B2B clients. This concept of his was initiated by him even before World Wide Web had come to India and way ahead of its time.
Because this idea had its own uniqueness, they didn’t find it hard to sell and in some time were pocketing clients like Indiatimes.com and Mailmetoday.com.
Now the business at its basics was obviously a B2B venture, but Manu wanted something which was more on the lines of B2C as well. Hence, Manu moved Rs.50 lakhs from the Rs. 2.5 Cr. that he had received from Upstart Advisors and along with his friend and batch mate – Amar Sinha, he launched two subsidiary web portals of Design Expo Network in 1999 –Criclive.com and Shubhyatra.com.
He worked on these websites for more than a year, but because they weren’t able to generate any revenues, let alone profits, they decided to sell these portals. And accordingly Shubhyatra.com was sold to Thomas Cook and Criclive.com was sold to Modi Entertainment Network in 2000.
Subsequently, in a matter of another year, Manu sold Design Expo as well to a Canadian payment systems company called SLMsoft and also helped them to manage their Bid Management and Indian Operations.
Once he felt that the company was set and didn’t require his help any more, Manu decided to move on and in 2003, with an investment of Rs.1 Cr. from family and friends, he started his second venture – ANMsoft technologies.
In simple terms, ANMsoft was an E-solution company which provided a wide range of E- Services such as: –
- Creation of an E-commerce Retail application
- Creation of an E-Travel application which contained components of Flight, Hotels, Car Rentals and Packages of private labelled B2C and B2B booking engines
- Development of an E- Media application which enabled services like online classifieds, collaborative content generation, publishing, subscription, and distribution.
- And building E-Payment applications which processed loans and also provided a reliable payment system
Again, this stint of his continued for another 5 years approximately; after which, he moved on to innovate something which he had always thought of, but had done before.
[ANMsoft still functions actively, but Manu is no more an active part of its operations.]
And having said that; in 2008 he launched Naaptol.com!
Life at Naaptol.com!
WHAT IS NAAPTOL.COM?
As self explanatory as it is – Headquartered in Mumbai; Naaptol is a home shopping company that provides a medium to buyers & sellers to purchase or sell numerous products in categories ranging from apparel, consumer electronics, mobile phones, home furnishings, furniture, kitchen appliances, and many more.
To begin with; Naaptol had been initiated by Manu along with Hari Trivedi and Yusuf Khan. Naaptol again had started with a seed capital of Rs. 50 lakhs. In its early days, the business model of Naaptol was – as the name suggested ‘Naap’ & ‘Tol’ i.e. it was just a research and price comparison platform, wherein they simply broadcasted information about various products.
One could visit the website and could compare the pricing of as many as 10 products to make an informed purchase decision. Additionally, they were also provided with a list of potential local sellers, they could purchase from.
This model continued for more than a year, after which they began to feel the heat! Now, they indeed had a good user base created, but the problem was that, they didn’t have any revenue model in place. Hence, they weren’t making any profits.
That is when they began thinking of a medium through which they could monetise the business. They realised that, what they were doing was their USP and they were on the lines of becoming Google of product search. The difference was that Google had a way to monetise its visitors through the advertisements. And that is how ‘hot deals’ clicked their mind!
As the idea started to evolve, they eventually zeroed down to a marketplace model and finally, in 2009 Naaptol.com converted itself into a full-fledge online marketplace.
Now unlike most other E-commerce players Naaptol did not sell directly & had followed a marketplace model, wherein all it was doing was providing a platform to merchants and sellers. They were broadly helping the small-time merchants/sellers to reach out to a wider customer base and at the same time giving customers the leverage to enjoy great value-for- money products.
Additionally, Naaptol also used to create micro sites for offline retailers where they could list their offers and the consumers could either opt to purchase the product online or visit the store. What added to the credibility was that Naaptol used provide complete contact details of every seller registered.
In the next year, the company started advertising itself on print media and increased its print media market share by 0.3% and moreover, also secured the position of the top advertiser for two consecutive years in 2009 and 2010.
With such unique idea and innovative advertisements, Naaptol’s turnover rose 10 times from Rs. 1 Cr in 2009 to Rs.10 Cr in 2010.
Capitalising on the growth; with a total investment of close to $1 million on advertising, they also started advertising in more than 60 print publications and at the same time, also started showcasing their products through broadcast media.
By 2011 – they had built a strong structure and had strengthened every department of theirs. Most of their business depended on calls, and hence they had very smartly outsourced the same to call centres in Thane, Vikroli and Navi Mumbai. On the other end; their suppliers stored the goods in warehouses which again were managed by third parties in Hyderabad, Gurgaon and Mumbai. Thus, collectively cutting down expenditure drastically!
And now with a strong list of 2 lakh products and 500 brands, the site was attracting 90,000 visitors and was making 5,000 transactions a day, which was somewhere close to Rs. 1.5 Cr sales a day.
If this was enough then, they certainly raised many more eyebrows when they reported that; even after going through a tough time in 2014, they were close to breaking even and were registering a 60% Year-on-Year growth rate. Plus, with orders worth about 4.5 cores every day, they had also made revenues worth Rs. 345 Cr in 2014-15.
More recently, Naaptol completed a huge round of funding and has begun the aggressive expansion mode. As a first; they will be expanding to international markets like Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and parts of West Asia in the next six months and then will move further.
In addition; a certain percentage of these funds would also be used to upgrade their studio capabilities, expansion of their supply chain and investments in the technology.
Talking about their funding; Naaptol has raised a total amount of $54.5 Million from Silicon Valley Bank, Canaan Partners, New Enterprise Associates and Mitsui & Co, so far! This includes their most recent funding worth $21 Million (2015), along with $25 Million (2011) and $8.5 Million (2010).
The year of 2014 had turned out to be a year filled with challenges for Manu & Naaptol in general. Apart from the many petty problems that they faced, there were two in specific that hit the front page.
1. At first, the company was pulled by the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) in May 2014 for allegedly false advertising.
Manu very graciously accepted that there was an issue with one of their commercials. They quickly identified the commercial, dropped the creative the next day, made the necessary amendments as per the ASCI guidelines, and restarted the commercial.
2. Soon after that problem ended, within a few months, Maharashtra Government’s Revenue Department accused Naaptol, that the company had failed to pay a Value Added Tax (VAT) on the sale of third party goods between 2008 and 2012 worth Rs. 23Cr. and accordingly their bank accounts were frozen.
But business wasn’t affected much because, Manu had approached the court on the same day and all of their accounts were unfrozen immediately. The issue is still a pending litigation with the state VAT department.
During the course of his business life; Manu accepts the fact that, he has taken many wrong decisions and has also made many mistakes. But business in true terms is about walking on a path you have never taken before. Similarly, he has learnt from every wrong decision & mistake, and has used them as ladders to grow even higher.
- Naaptol won the “Retailer of the Year” award by the Asia Retail Congress (2014)
- Manu received the “Entrepreneur of the Year” at Entrepreneur India Awards organized by Franchise India Magazine (2014)
- Manu received the “Most Admired Entrepreneur Award” by ABP News Brand Excellence Awards hosted by the World Brand Congress (2013)
- Naaptol won the “Hottest Internet Company of the Year” award at CNBC TV18 Young Turks Awards (2012)
- Naaptol received the “New Brand Award” by Star News (2011)